Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Gullibility of Hope

After this, we get this at
President Obama is the only person in the country with the clout to reframe the debate on public sector unions in a more sensible manner, and he seems to have wrapped himself in a radio silence. One can only assume it’s a deliberate, tactical, decision, an attempt to win back anti-union, conservative independent voters. After all, when the president wants things said, he has a remarkable ability to make himself heard. The chief executive can command national attention simply by calling a prime time press conference, or asking the networks to set aside some air time for a presidential address to the nation. And in Obama’s case, he’s not only the president; he’s also a first rate orator with an almost preternatural ability to get people to see things his way when he really wants them to.

So, how about using that presidential bully pulpit to defend not just Wisconsin’s beleaguered unions, but, more generally, union culture in America?
So, how about them Hoosiers?

I've been having an acrimonious exchange on Facebook with a friend who claims that people in other countries see Americans as "idiots" because of all the attention being lavished on Charlie Sheen. While I'm not interested in celebrity tabloid journalism, and agree that it's a waste of time, I don't waste my time on it. At the same time, I don't think it's harmful, any more than following pro or college sports, or joining one of the permutations of the Jesus cult, or jerking off. For one thing, following a Twitter feed on Charlie Sheen doesn't take up all your time: a decently literate person can read those 140-character bites in one glance while taking a break from reading Das Kapital or Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and then back to Quality!

For another, what is the alternative? The author of the article I quoted above is "a Nation magazine contributing writer, and a senior fellow at Demos" and "the author, most recently, of 'Inside Obama’s Brain.'" He might just as well be mainlining the Twitter feeds of every celebrity in the Western world. And that's the least of it. Right now Obama is responsible for the killing of children in Afghanistan, the brutalizing solitary confinement at Quantico of an American soldier who has not been convicted of any crime, continuing torture and indefinite detention at Guantanamo and Bagram, escalating the assault on domestic civil liberties, and other hefty crimes. But serious, literate Americans who follow the news and would at least pretend to scorn the tabloids are ignoring such matters or, worse, defending them. (These are the people who celebrated Obama's election because at last we had a President who could pronounce "nuclear," which is the only moral issue that interests them.) And that's not counting Fox News fans, who really are concerned about current events and the state of the nation, even if I despise the source they choose. Would the "idiots" who so exercise my friend be any better if they abandoned Charlie Sheen's Twitter feed for Newsweek and CNN? Fussing about the ignorant masses is just one more distraction as far as I can see, good for fueling one's self-righteousness but not much else.

I would just as soon keep Obama out of this struggle, thank you very much. Here's a thought experiment: Imagine that Obama gives a major speech endorsing the protests that have been going on in the US. Even if it turned out to be better than his usual self-serving, dishonest addresses, the result would be a firestorm in the corporate and liberal media, focusing entirely on Obama and ignoring the issues. As far as I can tell, Obama's speeches have never given rise to a "national conversation" on anything that wasn't already going on without his help or participation; but the big media aren't interested in conversations.

There's a widespread notion that movements need one figurehead leader who will tell them what to do. The media look for such figureheads in every movement that arise, usually without success; and even when they find one, like Martin Luther King Jr., they are more interested in tearing him apart than in addressing the issues. Most mainstream journalists -- certainly those who remain prominent for any length of time -- are not terribly bright, and try to drag debates down to their own level. It would be nice, I admit, if President Obama were to endorse the national grass-roots struggle against the Republicans, but that struggle doesn't need him, and is probably better off without his involvement.